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Ethics and International Development

Searching for life beyond Earth has specific scientific, governance and ethical dimensions that our research explores, including engaging with planetary protection principles, exploring who has the right to space and for what purpose, identifying practices and conduct on Earth that underpins space research and ensures sustainability.

Our work is organised around three themes:

Astrobiology Ethics: Astrobiology raises several ethical issues including who has the right to space and for what purpose? We look at astrobiology as a global discipline and explore ways in which the knowledge produced through accessing extreme environments, often located in the Global South, or through life detection missions, can be democratised. This includes social, environmental and philosophical issues associated with finding evidence of life and communicating this evidence to wider society.

We ask: What are the practices and conduct on Earth that underpin astrobiology research?

We are partners in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science’s Space Ethics Group, which was set up to meet an urgent need to develop an ethical framework for the UK and European space industry and is concerned with the marginalisation of environmental concerns in space, the issues posed by space debris, and mega-constellations. It argues for a more democratic and sustainable international space policy.


Partnerships: The UN, EU and corporate actors have all supported the building of partnerships between space and development research. Sustainable Development Goal 17 encourages this and is a priority for the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.  Simultaneously, the African Union Agenda for 2063 explicitly mentions ‘space’ as a priority area for Africa.

We ask: What do cooperation and partnerships in space exploration mean on a geopolitical scale? At a time when African countries are investing in their own space programmes, are these partnerships equitable?


Technology and Inclusion: We aim to map the use of space technologies in international development programmes that aim to improve the living conditions of marginalised communities. We evaluate their effectiveness using the theory of ‘Inclusive Innovation’.

We ask: How can space technologies be used effectively and equitably as a tool to achieve societal impacts?